Cowboy Bebop CCG: Spike vs Vicious review
Before Firefly, there was Cowboy Bebop, an anime series of space cowboys, bounty hunters, hackers and genetically-engineered Pembroke Welsh Corgis. Due to its popularity, the late '90s show was then developed into manga, a video game, a film and now a collectible card game based on UFS (Universal Fighting System).
For those unfamiliar with UFS, it already unites several themed decks, including Street Fighter and Mega Man, encouraging its players to settle the eternal question: which one of the famous fighters would win in a fight?
As in any collectible game, hunting for rare cards and building your own decks is a significant part of the game’s appeal. Tournaments also play a big part in UFS and, as with similar systems of Magic: The Gathering and Dice Masters, competitors play at a different level than casual fans. This is a game of high skill where knowing all the cards intricately, understanding how abilities feed off each other to create more powerful attacks and being able to assemble decks targeted to a certain type of play is directly related to increasing your chances of winning.
Consequently, UFS is not particularly newcomer-friendly. While the general motions you take through a round are not complex, there are a lot of minute terminologies and card effects that feel overwhelming.
What helps the game is that its logic of play can be explained through a very basic understanding of how one would behave in a physical fight. For example, moves get progressively harder to perform each round because the more punching and kicking you do, the more tired you get. Blocking attacks comes with its own set of incremental rules that, once again, can be easily imagined. For example, an attack aimed to the middle can be only partially blocked at high level – imagine covering your upper torso and head with your hands, while someone is aiming in the middle of your body with a kick. You could probably move fast enough to shield some of the damage but not all of it.
Cowboy Bebop CCG: Spike vs. Vicious is a great starting point for those wanting to try out the system, especially if you have minimal knowledge of fighting games.
Spike and Vicious were respectively the main protagonist and antagonist in the series and the decks reflect that, making them well-matched sparring partners. There are a lot of little nods to the anime in card abilities that fans will definitely appreciate, like Spike’s ‘Habitual Smoker’ card, that through its effects humorously scolds the main hero’s bad habit.
Spike is a master of martial arts and always aware of his surroundings, using anything that can give him an advantage. The deck reflects that by having a good variety of cards with abilities that can adapt to any situation. Vicious' deck, on the other hand, relies on his significant starting health advantage to deal more powerful blows. Sacrificing a bit of his own health, he is able to hit the opponent for a bigger number of damage points. Therefore, players who enjoy more brutal, tank-like play will fit well with Vicious’ deck, while those who like sneaky, rogue-like gameplay will agree more with Spike.
While the Cowboy Bebop CCG set is a new box, it is also an addition to an already existing fighting system and has to confine to an already established set of mechanical parameters and game rules. Unless you are a serious competitive player, the small incremental changes to the card powers and types will mean very little. Essentially, whether it is worth learning UFS depends on the appeal of the theme and, luckily, the way the decks play and especially how they look, using beautiful stills from an already extremely good-looking anime, is very reflective of the Bebop universe.
Once you slog your way through the rules, UFS can offer highly strategic and intriguing gameplay, even if you never intend to play it at the competitive level.